Thursday, January 3, 2008

Wide Sargasso Sea - Rhys

Inspired by Masterpiece Theater's broadcast of Jane Eyre, one of the best books that I ever read, I picked up Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys's "prequel," revolving around Bertha Mason-Rochester's life in the Caribbean. II was afraid of its characterization as specifically "post-colonial." I'm still not entirely sure if that's a descriptive only of the country/time of origin, or a category liked "post-modern," which I don't entirely get either. All I know is that the disaster that was Coetzee's Foe (another reaction/retelling of a literary classic), is "post-colonial" and it made utterly no sense to me. I just can't deal with that. But WSS was DEFINATELY an improvement. It was coherent and logical, for starters.

So we have Antoinette. Her mother is her father's second wife. her father dies. They had been slave owners but slavery was abolished. The mother, Antoinette, and her brother (who is mentally challenged or something) are dirt poor, living in Jamaica, surrounded by their former slaves. Her mother withdraws and starts to go "crazy." Is she organically crazy or reacting to her surroundings? I don't know. What categorized a woman as "crazy" in the early 19th century is vastly different than what we would call crazy today.

Then her mother marries Mr. Mason. The former slaves burn their house down, killing her mother's parrot (very disturbing). The brother dies, and the mother finally really goes crazy. Later, the Masons fix Antoinette up with Rochester. They are married less than a month after he arrives. Then her possible (disgustingly characterized) half brother tells Rochester about the craziness in the family. She starts to act a little out of sorts at time, then he takes her back to England and locks her in the tower.

The voodoo practicing caretaker - Christophine - very interesting. Antoinette is going to her to make Rochester love her. Is this a cause for her madness? Did Mr. Rochester have an affair with Amelie? It was suggested that he did. Who wouldn't be crazy being locked up in the tower? Rochester renames her Bertha - taking her identiy. The marriage wasn't what either of htem expected.

This short novel, for some reason, reminded me of Charolotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." It wasn't until after she was "treated" for being crazy that she went crazy.

1 comment:

Mike B. said...

Have you read anything else by Rhys? I highly recommend Good Morning, Midnight. and Quartet.

She's a lyrical and haunting writer. The despair in her writing somehow exudes strength.